Beyond the Book: Background information when reading You Must Set Forth at Dawn

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You Must Set Forth at Dawn

A Memoir

by Wole Soyinka

You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2007, 528 pages

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Akinwande Oluwole "Wole" Soyinka (pronounced wo-lay sho-enka), born 1934, is a Nigerian writer, poet and playwright, considered by many to be Africa's most distinguished playwright. He was also the first African to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 (since then, two others have won: Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz in 1988 and South-African Nadine Gordimer in 1991). He studied at both the University College, Ibadan (south-west Nigeria) and at the University of Leeds (UK) where he received a degree in English Literature.

After a time working as a playwright and a play reader for the Royal Court Theatre in London, he returned to Nigeria, where he taught in the Universities of Lagos, Ibadan, and Ife (becoming Professor of Comparative Literature there in 1975).

He has played an active role in Nigeria's political history. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War he was arrested and put in solitary confinement for his attempts at brokering a peace between the warring parties.

While in prison he wrote poetry which was published in a collection titled Poems from Prison. Following international pressure regarding his imprisonment he was released, and recounted his experiences in prison in his book The Man Died: Prison Notes.

A prolific writer of novels, poetry and plays, he continues to be an outspoken critic of many Nigerian administrations, and of political tyrannies worldwide. Much of his writing has been concerned with "the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the color of the foot that wears it". This activism has often exposed him to great personal risk.

When civilian rule returned in 1999, Soyinka accepted an emeritus post at Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) on the condition that the university bar all former military officers from the position of chancellor. Soyinka is currently the Elias Ghanem Professor of Creative Writing at the English department of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Interesting Links

The Reith Lectures
have been a British radio tradition since 1948. They are named after John Reith, the BBC's first Director-General, who maintained that broadcasting should be a public service which enriches the intellectual and cultural life of the nation. Since 1999, the lectures have been stored online at the BBC's website where they can be accessed for free in both transcript and audio form - thus enriching not just the intellectual and cultural life of the UK, but of the whole world! The Reith lecturer for 2004 was Wole Soyinka. Click the link to listen to, or read the transcripts of, his five lectures titled The Changing Mask of Fear, Power and Freedom, Rhetoric That Binds and Blinds, A Quest for Dignity and I Am Right; You Are Dead.

More about Nigeria in BookBrowse Says for Half of a Yellow Sun

This article is from the April 5, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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